Ask the Experts: Racing Strategy with Mark Threlfall

Triathlete Mark Threlfall, 23, has represented GB in duathlon, triathlon and cross triathlon. He discovered his passion for the sport in his teens and joined the British Triathlon World Class Performance Squad. Since graduating from Loughborough University, he has become a full-time triathlete and duathlete, sponsored by Zoot.

Last year Mark was crowned Castle Triathlon Series Champion and he came third in the ITU World Cross Triathlon U23 Championships. This year he demonstrated middle-distance potential, coming fourth in his first Ironman 70.3 in South Africa.

He joined us last week to answer your questions on racing strategy.

Read the whole forum debate

Q: I did my first triathlon recently and when working particularly hard on the cycle, I found myself rocking from side-to-side pushing the bike out in the opposite direction to balance me out. It felt like this enabled me to work harder/have a bit more traction (especially on hills) but a friend said that this was actually detrimental and that I should keep sideways movement to a minimum, comparing it to good posture in swimming and running. Is this true? Graham Taylor 12

A: Congratulations on doing your first triathlon. I hope you enjoyed it. It’s not uncommon for people to get this rocking motion on the bike, but your friend is right. On the flat you should aim to have everything running in straight lines, like pistons, pushing all force and energy through the pedals. Any side motion is a loss in efficiency and often a sign of a weak or under-activating core.

I would suggest doing some core stability and hips strengthening exercises combined with working on keeping everything in line when cycling. Simple exercises like ‘Side Plank Leg Lifts’ and ‘Bridges’ will really help this. If you need any more advice or help on this don’t hesitate to contact me through my site:

You will generally get more movement on the hills if out of the saddle, in fact this is the best way.  But if it is just a slight gradient and you are in the saddle then you should still aim to keep everything straight and solid.

Q: I will be taking part in my first olympic tri in September, and am currently bike-less so my training has been gym-based. Are there any sessions/drills you would recommend that would be good to do on a gym bike? Julia Sobik

A: When you're in the gym, you can work on a lot of things that help improve power and efficiency on the bike that most people neglect.

On the bike, start off with a warm up that mixes in some single leg drills. Aim to be as smooth as possible and not move about on the saddle. Then try introducing some intensity to the sessions, such as 30 seconds all out, 1 minute easy and repeat 10 times. You can vary this with longer intervals at slight lower intensity. I have found great benefits from using the rowing machine in the past when I have been injured. Try combining this with some core work like I mentioned above and some strength work with weights.

Q. There's been a lot of bad press recently about sports nutrition products. A Panorama programme reckoned we'd perform just as well on a balanced diet and water. What do you eat and drink in training and racing, and do you think there's a place for sports nutrition in triathlon? Alison Hamlett

A. Everyone has their own views and opinions on nutrition, and it is very hard to say who has the answer. One thing I have learnt over the years is that everyone responds very differently to training, nutrition, etc. So, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

I swear by a good balanced diet, but I do combine this with energy drinks and gels for racing. I use High5 Energy Source during races for fluid along with High5 Isogels (I take two in Olympic-distance tris and five in 70.3s). I use the Energy Source drink for hard training sessions, and also a 4:1 drink for long rides as it contains protein to help muscle recovery.

Q. Other than the Brits, who would you chance a cheeky tenner on at the Olympic triathlons? I fancy Bryukhankov. Also, how do youmanage your bike pacing during longer distance races? Slowerthanilook

A. Well Bryukhankov is a definite contender along with Gomez. In the women’s race, maybe Riveros, Norden or Spirig.

It might surprise you, but for racing I actually go by feel. Not everyone’s cup of tea, a lot of pros use power meters, but at the moment I just enjoy going by feel.

I use a powermeter in training, and get used to the intensity, effort and feel at the set wattage I think I need to be hitting for races. You can do the same with HR. So, I know on race day if I am pushing too hard or easy because it's ingrained in to me. Another key is nutrition: do not neglect this over the longer distances. I use a good energy drink and a gel every 20km.

Q. I have just got into triathlon. I was a reasonable swimmer as a kid, and 30 years later I still have good technique but I can’t get my breathing right to survive a 400m swim. I end up doing breaststroke. If I breathe every two strokes I am hyper ventilating and if I breathe every three or four strokes, I am screaming for air after 100m. Rob Atkin 3

A. I have come across a lot of people who have experienced this problem. It is hard to say without seeing you swimming, but it can often help by exhaling steadily while your head is in the water.

As soon as you face submerges, trickle your breath out steadily until your next breath. By holding your breath you can actually cause a lot of tension and breathlessness. You should just see a constant stream of bubbles from your nose/mouth under the water. Also, don't worry about breathing every two strokes: I do, as do many top swimmers.

Q. I have had to take a break in training for an Olympic distance triathlon due to illness. With only seven weeks to go and a target to finish ahead of last year’s time, do I concentrate on improving one of the disciplines rather than all three? My run is not overly fast so this could be a good place to make up time. MintyFresh

A. If you’re still struggling with illness, back off until you are 100 per cent again. You will be surprised how little things like gym work, stretching, and running drills can improve performance. These are low intensity and allow the body to continue to recover from illness.

Once you feel better, I would just suggest building all three disciplines back up. Little and often is the ideal way to get back in to it.